In this month, America declared war on Britain, tired of its impressment of ships by the Royal Navy. Britain, concentrating on Napoleonic France, managed to gather whatever forces it could for the battle ahead, hoping for a quick and clean victory.
Also in this month, Napoleon’s Grand Armee crossed into Russia. Napoleon had laid out a careful plan that sent his army up north through Russia alongside the Baltic coast. This way, Napoleon was able to keep his supplies up by having the Prussians ship them up along the coast. Several minor battles occurred but none which were counted as major. His target was the capital of St. Petersburg; this plan focused on capturing the actual head of Russian government rather than the spiritual capital.
(The major POD at this point is that Napoleon has set a clear target for St. Petersburg rather than his ill thought out campaign towards Moscow)
The Battle of Salamanca ended with the complete rout of an entire French Army. The French Army was given an escape point where they believed it was a clear road to Eastern Spain. But in they were gravely mistaken, as the Spanish commander held his position along the road and the remainder of the French army were wiped out by the coalition forces with the injured Marshal Marmont being captured by a Hanoverian Unit.
In the end, only 2000 men escaped and retreated to Madrid. On hearing the news, King Joseph immediately ordered a retreat to the Ebro River, hoping to build up his defences there. With him went all of the French/Spanish court who feared the onset of a British attack and the reprisals of an angry Spanish population.
(Here is the second POD. In OTL, the Spanish Commander failed to hold his position and let Marmont's Army escape. Here though, the Commander stops Marmont's Army and Central Spain is libertated)
Wellington entered Madrid as jubilant celebrations were taking place within the city. With Marmont’s army smashed, central and southern Spain was free from French forces. Wellington paused in Madrid as he collected his forces and thought about his next tactical step. With Napoleon busy in Russia, it was tempting to march onto Joseph’s position, defeat him and then march across the Pyrenees into France. Wellington dismissed the idea until he was certain of Napoleon’s position in Russia. Instead he opted for attacking Joseph but staying in Spain and building up his forces while also finishing off the remaining French garrisons. After pausing to reorganise his forces, Wellington marched north-east at the end of the month.
Ten miles south of St Petersburg, the Armies of Napoleonic France and Tsarist Russia collided. The force personally under Napoleon’s command (at this time, it numbered roughly 180,000 men) led an attack against the Tsarist forces of 188,000 men. Tsar Alexander himself had taken it upon himself to lead the defence of St Petersburg, feeling it was his duty to defeat the threat to his Kingdom, despite the advice of many of his counsellors. The battle began at 7:17 AM with a French artillery bombardment.
The battle was enormous in scale and the defences of the Russian Army were taken and retaken at least eight times during that day. Though Russian forces put up a brave fight, they were gradually pushed backwards while reinforcements from Prince Eugene had arrived and a contingent of 20,000 men started to turn the Russian’s right flank. The final break came when the news that Tsar Alexander had been killed began to filter through the Russian ranks.
Though future records were hazy and somewhat vague, during 2:00 PM when the French forces had beaten back the latest Russian assault, Tsar Alexander had taken it upon himself to lead a group of Cossacks in a charge against the French infantry. The charge was a disaster as in the confusion of battle; the unit got lost and emerged in the thickest of French units. An unknown French soldier (though thousands would later claim the deed) shot the Tsar through the chest and he fell down dead.
The remaining Cossacks managed to return the Tsar’s body to the Russian lines but the news had travelled down the ranks and the remainder of the Russian army gradually fell apart. By 4:12 PM, it was in flight back to St Petersburg. The French had won the field, albeit with the cost of 32,000 men, the Russians had definitely come off worse however as their casualties were estimated at 60,000; a good portion coming from the French cavalry charges against the retreating Russian forces. The worst casualty for the French was that of Marshal Davout, who was cut down by an artillery shell in one of the French assaults on the Russian positions. His death affected Napoleon who was quoted as saying “Without Davout, I am without my right hand.”
With the Tsar dead and the army in tatters, the Russian command surrendered to Napoleon by 7:00 PM. Napoleon marched into St Petersburg and dictated terms to the Russians. Finland was to be given to Sweden, ten million Francs were to be paid in indemnities and Russia was to rejoin the Continental Blockade. Many believed that the relatively relaxed terms were due to Napoleon’s grief over Tsar Alexander’s death in battle, a sentiment surprisingly felt by many of the Russian people who saw the Tsar as having died fighting against one of the greatest evils of any age.
While the Treaty of St Petersburg was negotiated and signed, Napoleon received word of the Battle of Salamanca. Furious at the loss, he consulted his Marshall’s and decided that he and 50,000 Imperial Guard and 20,000 cavalry should leave the army in the hands of Ney until spring while Napoleon raised a new army in France to combat the British threat by early 1813. Ney would then take the Grand Armee out of Russia and leave garrisons at the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and the Western Prussian border.
Napoleon prepared to leave for France but was unprepared for the bad news that is coming to greet him along the way. During the last month, the French position in Spain had collapsed. Choosing a position at Tiron, Joseph had tried to put up some defences but the mass of people and loot that weren’t part of the army severely got in the way and Joseph’s own lack of authority prevented any actual work from happening. When Wellington attacked then, the French defences were in his own words “A laughably small ditch with some wooden posts seemingly placed at random.”
The one advantage to Joseph’s position though was a bridge across the Ebro which would allow him to retreat with at least some of his forces intact should things go wrong. Realising that to let the French escape now would seriously damage his chances to completely liberate Spain, Wellington decided on a risky strategy. While the bridge was held by the right flank of the French, Wellington decided to centre his army on them and using his left flank to swing round and force the French off the bridge. Knowing his right flank would be vulnerable, Wellington planned to scatter the French left by a huge cavalry charge by at least two thirds of his forces. Incredibly risky as this strategy was, Wellington realised that the opportunity of defeating King Joseph himself would be worth it.
The Battle of the Ebro began at 8:00 AM when the Allied cavalry started their charge. Unknowingly, they had several advantages over the enemy as the French high command was deeply divided over the battle. Many disagreed to actually standing to fight the British forces, not sharing the sense of shame Joseph had over the abandonment of Madrid. As soon as the Allies began to deploy, several Generals had ordered a retreat while Joseph had ordered the army to fight. The confusion ran through the ranks and the army was completely demoralised and unable to deploy for the battle.
As the Allied cavalry smashed the French left, only a few units were able to get into square formation while the remainder panicked. Lord Uxbridge later recalled “I’ve never encountered anything like it. In one instant, the French army had vanished, only to be replaced by a bunch of headless chickens.” The sentiment wasn’t felt on the British left and centre though as Marshal Jourdan had been able to rally the troops and put up a fierce resistance.
Despite the dogged defence though, the bridge was captured by a Portuguese battalion at 10:45 AM effectively cutting off the French line of retreat. With the flanks now being turned back, Joseph bowed to the inevitable and surrendered to the Allied army. Negotiations followed and Joseph agreed to surrender his men as prisoners of war, return all the loot taken and hand over all weapons to be used by the Allied army. Joseph himself was to be sent and held in England until peace between France and the Allies existed once more.
Soult, who had been able to send reinforcements to Joseph, now pulled back over the Pyrenees. He had been at San Sebastian since Salamanca, waiting for Joseph to arrive so they could counter attack. Now with his forces to meagre to do anything, Soult retreated.
The Convention of the Ebro was signed on the 3rd. When one soldier tried to compliment the Duke by saying “Why sir, Cintra is redeemed!” Wellington replied “It isn’t redeemed, it as if it never happened.”
On his way to the coast in order to be transported to England, Joseph’s carriage was discovered by the guerrillas. Despite some brave fighting by his guards, they were overpowered and Joseph was murdered in cold blood. His body was left nailed to a tree as a sign of some bloody vengeance. Wellington was infuriated by the attack, seeing it to be another sign of Spanish duplicity and general incompetence. The Spanish press however, actually celebrated Joseph’s murder and made it seem as if the Spanish guerrillas had fought off a French assault and Joseph had been killed in the fighting rather than being brutally murdered.
Despite this setback, Wellington concentrated his forces and marched back to the north of Madrid, to the town of Segovia. Wellington chose this spot as it allowed him to defend Madrid and also forced any French invasion force to leave behind substantial garrisons in order to protect communications and also would be constantly attacked by guerrillas. Wellington used Segovia as winter barracks and trained his army, now around 65,000 in number.
When hearing of his brother’s death in Paris, Napoleon flew into a fit of rage against the British, the Spanish, the guerrillas and most of all, Wellington himself. Denouncing him a traitor and coward, Napoleon ordered a conscription of 100,000 men for the invasion of Spain which he planed for February and promised “My brother’s death shall be repaid in a torrent of British blood. “Wellington that shit wrapped in British cotton shall suffer a dozen times what my brother suffered!”
Joseph Bonaparte was buried in a small cemetery outside Madrid attended by several French generals and lower ranks. Wellington attended the funeral to pay respect to the man he failed to protect. But he also kept a close eye on the situation in France, knowing that it wouldn’t be too long before Napoleon resumed his march.